It Happened Here: The First Murder in Neptune City, NJ

It Happened Here: The First Murder in Neptune City, NJ


On the morning of August 3, 1929, one of the biggest and most significant (in my opinion) historical events took place on Fourth and Steiner Avenues in Neptune City, NJ yet there has been little research and public knowledge of it: The first murder in Neptune City.  I first learned of this occurrence by reading the Neptune City History Book on the single page about the Steiner and Son Pajama Factory but unfortunately there was only one sentence mentioning it.

I always wondered about the details and when I was in Rutgers I had limited access to newspaper archives and found an article that said the murder was plotted only a few houses down from my own, which reeled me in even more.  Just a year ago I began searching the newspaper archives, specifically for history on Fourth Avenue, when I decided that I could be the one who wrote a feature on the first murder.  I discovered that this was a crazy story and I couldn’t believe that it hasn’t been brought to light until now and I don’t know why nobody cared to do so, but I’m doing it now with the hopes of spreading knowledge and education.

The site of the factory and the murder is now just a bunch of run-of-the-mill condominiums and I’m sure no one there has a clue what really happened 78 years ago.  Never forget the history of something; you’ll NEVER know what you may discover.

*Disclaimer: All information in this article is compiled for educational and historical purposes. Piecing together a story from newspaper archives isn’t an easy task and you can’t always get all of the details straight (for example, ages, spelling of names, etc. differs in different articles from the same publication) so there may be small gaps or inaccuracies in my write-up.  My main goal was just to piece together the story as best I could. And with that I give you…my feature article…

It Happened Here

August 3, 1929 – 65-year-old George Danielson, a bank messenger for the First National Bank in Bradley Beach was walking down Fourth Avenue on his usual route, a $7,280 payroll in hand for the Steiner and Sons pajama factory.  Three well-dressed men, who had been lingering around the factory earlier that morning, approached Danielson, one or two of whom fired two shots into his body before snatching the package from him and running toward Memorial Drive as he ripped it open.  Eyewitnesses report that the three men jumped into a dark sedan with Pennsylvania license plates that sped eastbound on Fourth Avenue.  One witness, Charles Conover, contended that the getaway car struck his vehicle as it swung onto Main Street in Bradley from Fourth Avenue in Neptune City and sped off.

A man named George Bennett, who heard the shots all the way from Evergreen Avenue in Bradley Beach, ran to Danielson’s aide.  His last words were, “They got me and the payroll,” before losing consciousness.  Bennett helped Harold Steiner get Danielson into the back of a car before he was rushed to a hospital in Spring Lake, where he was later pronounced dead.

At the start of the police investigation, an auto dealer reported seeing three men matching the description fill their car, also matching the description, with gas at his garage in Bradley Beach and a man who ran a fruit stand near Danielson’s bank reported seeing three men watching Danielson earlier in the week.  Shortly after the shooting, the car in question was found abandoned on Ocean and Fifth avenues.  Inside the car, a suitcase clamp, a gray Panama hat and remnants of the paper that wrapped the payroll package were found and brought to the prosecutor’s office in Freehold.  The Chief Prosecutor ordered men out on patrol in various directions in the state but none of the men were found.

Earlier that week, Russell Baxter of 930 Fourth Ave met with an old friend from school, a man named Robert Tully, at Flannery’s, a speakeasy on Park Place in Bradley Beach.  Baxter was employed as a shipping clerk for Steiner and Sons and, according to Tully, spoke of having financial troubles at their meeting.  Baxter allegedly brought up the payroll, saying, “The Steiner payroll would be easy to knock off.”  Tully contends that Baxter got two other men, Frank McBrien a.k.a. “The Jersey Kid” and James Sargent a.k.a. “Berger” a.k.a. “California Eddy” involved in the scheme.  News outlets reported that Tully enlisted in the help of another man, Francis “Lefty” Long. 

Prior to the hold up, Baxter followed Danielson to learn his routines but the hold-up was postponed for a week because Danielson had went out on jury duty.  News outlets reported that Tully was the ringleader in plotting the murder, which took place at both 930 Fourth Avenue and in the Nassau Hotel in Asbury Park.  On the night before the murder, Tully contacted Joseph Crane and asked him to drive Francis Lefty Long to Asbury as well as a steal a car that the group could use as a getaway car.  Crane stole a Stutz car belonging to a Philadelphia doctor and drove it to Surf Garage in Asbury Park for storage.  That car was the one found abandoned on Ocean and Brinley, failed due to mechanical problems.

Baxter failed to show up to work on the day of the murder, claiming sickness.  Tully met Crane at 10:30 a.m. that morning and offered him $200 for providing the stolen car.  Crane wanted more money.  Tully said he would have to meet him later and offer more money out of his own pocket because the others would get upset if he gave him more money out of the loot.  Crane was questioned by police and ultimately let go in exchange for his cooperation with the case.

On the night of the murder, everyone in the group but Baxter met at the Nassau Hotel to split the loot.  Tully was double-crossed and was given a bag containing only paper.  Afterwards, Tully called a friend of Baxter’s, asking Baxter to meet them on Eighth and Kingsley in Asbury Park.  Baxter got in the car with Tully and rode with him until they returned to Baxter’s house, where Tully gave Baxter a bundle of something wrapped in newspaper.  Tully told Baxter he had some more things he wanted Baxter to “hold on to,” so they returned to Tully’s residence in Asbury where Tully gave Baxter his suitcase.  They returned to Baxter’s residence where Tully opened the suitcase and pulled out another item wrapped in newspaper.

Next, they drove to the Belmar Bridge and threw the suitcase into the Shark River, unbeknownst that one man saw.  Baxter then rented a room for Tully at the Vergemere Hotel in Ocean Grove.  Tully remained at the Vergemere Hotel before fleeing to Camden and Baxter returned to his home.  Upon arriving back home, Baxter opened the bundles that Tully had given him and found four guns in one package, cash in the other.  Tully had told Baxter he could have the cash bundle.  Baxter took the guns and cash and buried them in West Orange out of fear.  Baxter also had several bank bags from the hold-up, which he first attempted to burn, and then buried in the sand behind his home on Fifth Avenue when they wouldn’t burn beyond recognition.  According to payroll records, Baxter returned to work on August 6 and then quit two days later, when he and his family vacated their home.

A few days later, Baxter turned himself into East Orange police out of the fear that he would be captured and sentenced to the electric chair.  He led police to the burnt bank bags buried on Fifth Ave and to the spot in West Orange where he buried the cash and guns.  The man who witnessed Baxter and Tully throwing the suitcase off of the bridge returned the next day and retrieved the bag, which bore the faded initials “W.T.”, turning it over to police.

A run on the license plates of the car found abandoned on Ocean and Fifth Aves led back to Walter Tully, brother to Robert Tully.  Walter Tully told police that his brother had asked to borrow his car and he did not question why, assuming that his brother needed it for a date.  Robert Tully was arrested in a Camden rooming house at 116 Fourth Street where he was found in bed with a large amount of money on his person.  He was allegedly set to leave for South America aboard a tanker leaving out of Paulsboro.  Tully was identified by Asbury Park Policeman Edward Burke who knew Tully from school and knew where he liked to hang out.  Tully claimed that he did not know any of the others had a gun and didn’t know that Danielson would be shot.  He contended that he was only acting as a lookout and that he couldn’t run away because police took his brother into custody because of the bag and the car.  He claims he wasn’t with Baxter at Baxter’s house on the night of the job.  Tully supposedly followed a payroll messenger from the bank to the factory the day before the crime but it was not Danielson.

Baxter confirmed that it was he and Tully who were seen throwing the bag off of the Belmar Bridge before it was recovered by the witness.  Inside the bag were papers addressed to Baxter.  The clamp found in the abandoned car fit the suitcase, which led police to the Vergremere Hotel, where they first began on Tully’s trail.  As a result, the judge gave Baxter leniency for tipping off the police and becoming a witness against Tully.  He was sentenced to 3 years in state prison for concealing a crime.

Prosecutors sought the death penalty for Tully but the jury handed down a life sentence of hard labor instead.  He revealed that his biggest fear was the reputation he left for his family.  Tully’s defense was that he was not the person who plotted the hold-up and he wanted to “get out” of the situation but couldn’t.

After the capture of Baxter and Tully, police were still on the lookout for Frank McBrien, James Sargent and Francis Lefty Long, who were last seen walking down the boardwalk from Bradley Beach to Asbury.  McBrien was already wanted by Newark authorities for a similar hold-up up and shooting of George B. Lee, a public service cashier at a Newark Bus Terminal over $3,600.  Newark authorities spent over $10,000 trying to trail him down and got cold leads in Chicago, Denver and in Mexico and Canada.  He was finally tracked down by Inspector John D. Coughlin of Monmouth County, who was working on the Danielson case and got a tip that McBrien was moving from Philadelphia to New York with a woman.  Coughlin followed the woman’s van to the New York apartment where McBrien was found (609 West 196th St New York).  At about 4:30 a.m. on the day of arrest, officers surrounded the inside and outside of the New York apartment.

As one officer went to secure the back of the building, McBrien fired 2 shots out of his apartment window at him.  The officer dropped to the ground and fired shots back.  McBrien’s girlfriend, Mabel Davis, jumped out of the window and was caught and placed under arrest by police.  McBrien ran to the front door of his apartment and fired shots from a revolver around it before barricading himself.  Police in the corridor returned fire but nobody was hurt.  Officers threatened for a police emergency team who could send in tear gas within minutes.

After learning that his girlfriend was in police custody, he surrendered.  Minutes before the deadline, McBrien inched the door open and said, “Don’t shoot.”  He stuck the stock of his revolver through the opening and slid it out on the ground.  An officer grabbed it and McBrien followed with his hands in the air, his shirt sleeves rolled up, revealing a tattoo reading “Death Before Dishonor.”

At the time of McBrien’s arrest, Francis Lefty Long was in custody as a witness for McBrien’s case in Newark and was received thereafter by Monmouth County authorities to become a witness in Tully’s trial.  Long was caught during a bank hold up in Easy Orange where he only got away with $44.  After holding up a taxi at gunpoint he was captured in a Newark speakeasy.  Long admitted to playing the role of the second getaway driver in the Danielson killing.  Long was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the bank hold-up and was thereafter transferred from Trenton to Freehold for sentencing in Danielson’s case, where he was sentenced to another 10 years (some articles reported 20).

McBrien was not turned over for prosecution by Monmouth County because of the severity of the crime he was wanted for out of Essex County although investigators determined that he, along with Sargent, fired the shots into Danielson.  He was found guilty of murder in the first degree of George B. Lee and sentenced to die in the electric chair at Trenton State Prison.  McBrien was electrocuted in 1930.

The only suspect to remain at large was James Sargent a.k.a. “California Eddy”.  He was finally apprehended in November 1931 after a train robbery in Portland, Oregon.  Police determined that Sargent is the one who made off with the majority of the payroll.  Tully testified that Sargent fired the fatal shot into Danielson.  Sargent escaped prison in 1932 after serving two months for the train robbery but was recaptured without incident.

Seven years after sentencing, Tully attempted suicide by cutting his wrists and ankles with a razorblade and knife in prison.  In 1933, a prison hospital guard was arrested and convicted for plotting to help Tully and 3 other criminally insane prisoners escape.  Francis Lefty Long hung himself in Eastern State Penitentiary in 1938.





“3 More Sought, Probers at Odds in Bandit Roundup.” The Asbury Park Press, 13 Aug. 1929.

“Bank Messenger Slain, Banidts Get $7,280.” The Asbury Park Press, 3 Aug. 1929.

“Baxter Likely to Get 2 to 3 Years.” The Asbury Park Press, 27 Mar. 1930.

“Baxter is Held For Murder, Admits He Aided Holdup Plot.” The Asbury Park Press, 12 Aug. 1929.

“Clasping Of Hands Only Emotion Shown By Tully.” The Asbury Park Press, 17 Jan. 1930.

“Crane to Fight Extradition In Fatal Shore Holdup.” The Asbury Park Press, 26 Aug. 1929.

“Danielson Slaying Evidence Ready For Grand Jury.” The Asbury Park Press, 23 Aug. 1929.

“Delay Tully Trial Two Months More.” The Asbury Park Press, 23 Sept. 1929.

“Girls Link Bandit Suspect to Crime, Put At Scene; Tully Held For Murder.” The Asbury Park Press, 10 Aug. 1929.

“Jerseyman Under $40,000 Bail As Material Witness.” The Asbury Park Press, 8 Aug. 1929.

“”Lookout” In Holdup Cheated By Gunmen, Prisoner Asserts.” The Asbury Park Press, 9 Aug. 1929.

“Matthews to be Counsel For Tully on Murder Charge.” The Asbury Park Press, 9 Jan. 1930.

“M’Brien Appeal Is Put Before Court.” The Asbury Park Press, 21 Mar. 1930.

“McBrien, Calm and Sneering, Almost Trots to Death Chair; Silent on Danielson Slaying.” The Asbury Park Press, 23 July 1930.

“M’Brien To Pay Danielson Debt.” The Asbury Park Press, 29 Jan. 1930.

“M’Brien Jury Picked; State Demands Death.” The Asbury Park Press, 17 Jan. 1930.

“McBrien to Die, Appeal is Rejected.” The Asbury Park Press, 20 May 1930.

“McBrien, Sought As A Killer In Holdup, Near Capture.” The Asbury Park Press, 29 Aug. 1929.

“McBrien to be Tried For Essex Murder.” The Asbury Park Press, 6 Dec. 1929.

“Phila. Suspect Held in Danielson Slaying.” The Asbury Park Press, 14 Aug. 1929.

“Police Capture M’Brien After Gun Battle.” The Asbury Park Press, 4 Dec. 1929.

“Robert Tully Tries Suicide.” The Asbury Park Press, 4 Jan. 1937.

“Sargent Caught; Last of Bandits in Danielson Killing.” The Asbury Park Press, 6 Nov. 1931.

“Seized As Holdup Fails; Admits Part in Fatal Shore Robbery.” The Asbury Park Press, 20 Nov. 1929.

“Slaying Suspect Again Questioned.” The Asbury Park Press, 19 Aug. 1929.

“State Demands Death For Tully, Admits Hand In Shore Slaying; Freehold Jury Is Quickly Chosen.” The Asbury Park Press, 16 Jan. 1930.

“State May Use Long As Witness Against Tully.” The Asbury Park Press, 15 Jan. 1930.

“Surrenders and Admits He Carried Fatal HoldUp Loot .” The Asbury Park Press, 15 Aug. 1929.

“Third Charge of Murder Made in Bradley Slaying.” The Asbury Park Press, 20 Aug. 1929.

“Tully and Baxter Taken to Camden; Ryder Released.” The Asbury Park Press, 16 Aug. 1929.

“Tully Given Life Sentence; “Mercy” Granted By Jury.” The Asbury Park Press, 18 Jan. 1930.

“Tully Goes to Trial Jan. 14 for Murder of Danielson.” The Asbury Park Press, 20 Dec. 1929.

“Tully “Master Mind” In Danielson Robbery, Jury Told By State Witness.” The Asbury Park Press, 17 Jan. 1930.

“Tully Pleads Not Guilty; Trial Then Set For November.” The Asbury Park Press, 24 Sept. 1929.

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